6 Easy Steps On How to Clean a Car Air Filter

Eagle's Garage may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. This comes at no additional cost to you, and all the prices and availability are accurate at the time of publishing.

There are many vital components in a car that impact its overall performance and one of them equally as important to a car’s operation, is the air filter. However, also like many other parts of the car, it requires regular maintenance or replacement after a certain length of time or number of miles driven.  This article will help teach owners on how to clean a car air filter and how to go about maintaining them clean.

Driving around with a dirty or clogged air filter can cause a drop in vehicle performance. It causes a decrease in gas mileage and a drop in horsepower that affects both the engine’s power as well as its efficiency, because it is forced to work harder while at the same time being choked and deprived of the oxygen it needs to operate.

The purpose of the car air filter is to purify the air going into the engine to increase performance and protect sensitive components inside from damage caused by contaminates entering through other parts of the system. When you consider how much of your engine’s power actually goes through the air filter, it’s easy to see why this is such an important piece of a vehicle.

6 Easy Steps On How To Clean A Car Air Filter

Step 1. Locate the Air Filter

On older models, this is usually quite a fairly simple task, as they are located on the side of the engine bay. However, more recent models have made this slightly more difficult to find by locating it in some weird spot under the hood or under the car itself. If you are trying to clean your own air filter and can’t seem to locate it anywhere, try taking a look at your owner’s manual for guidance on installation locations.

Step 2. Remove the Air Filter

Now that you have located your air filter, all you need to do is remove it. The simplest way to go about doing this is by locating the clamps that secure it in place and loosening them up enough to take out your old one and replace it with a brand spanking new one or move onto the next step if you don’t plan to replace it. If you are an owner of certain older models then you may find that there isn’t any type of clamp holding your filter into place, but instead, just some rubber rings or grommets around the cover where your filter is housed.

Step 3. Cleaning it with a Vacuum Cleaner

Now that you have gotten your new or old filter out of the housing, its time to use a vacuum cleaner to clean up all that nasty trash and particles that might be clogging up your filter. This is as simple as placing your hand on top of the canister surrounding where you located your air filter and turning it on so that it sucks out all the dirt and debris around it. Make sure to do so on both sides of the filter and inside the housing so you are certain that every bit has been removed.

Step 4. Cleaning it with a Water

Now if you don’t have a vacuum cleaner or you simply don’t want, then get a bucket of hot, soapy (a small amount of laundry detergent should do) water and clean out both sides of your air filter. Also make sure to get rid of any residue left over from using the vacuum cleaner prior if you feel the suction was not enough. Once you have gotten rid of all the dirt that has collected around your air filter.

Step 5. Drying your Air Filter

Now this part is pretty self explanatory, simply take the filter and set it out in the open where it can dry and don’t put it back into your car just yet. The place you choose for drying it out should be a spot where there is plenty of ventilation and sunlight. Make sure it’s completely dry before you go stuffing it back where it belongs.

When Should You Change Your Car Air Filter?

Now this has a lot of variables to take into account such as how often you drive; what kind of car you have and, where in the world you live and honestly, it’s probably best to just look at your owner’s manual. Listed there should be a mileage interval for you to change your filter every so often and when it recommends this service is when many believe they should go ahead and do so. 

However, if you live in a place where pollution is pretty extreme, then you should probably change your air filter every 1 to 3 months. While those that live in more rural locations and drive their vehicles less frequently should probably change their filters once a year.

During certain times of the year like summer and winter, you may want to swap out your air filter for a new one as well because excessive heat or cold can damage them over time and bring excessive wear or make them brittle. On average most car owners replace their filters every 15,000 – 20,000 miles or so.

Signs of a Dirty Car Air Filter

The following are some common signs of a dirty car air filter;

Reduced fuel economy:

This occurs because your engine is working hard to draw in more air than it should because the filter is clogged up. This can also cause damage to your engine, increased emission levels and an increase in wear on some parts of your engine.

Also read: How To Test a Fuel Pressure Sensor With a Multimeter

Unusual engine sounds:

You may hear strange sounds from your engine that shouldn’t be there such as a whirring or whining noise. This can also be a sign of your air filter being dirty so it may be time for you to give it a change out.

Reduced power:

Your car could have reduced power output because the airflow going into your engine is not sufficient enough, thus creating a drop in RPM’s and overall performance. If this is happening, it’s time to give your filter some attention and replace it.

Check Engine Light on:

This means that one of your sensors is reading that something in the air flow system isn’t operating correctly and could be a sign that you need to change your air filter. Check for codes in your vehicle’s computer system to determine what sensor is having trouble.

Black smoke from the exhaust:

This time, visually inspect your exhaust for black smoke, if it looks like you’re smoking, then that means dirt has built up around your air filter and clogged up the engine. This can cause damage to parts like your catalytic converter and should be fixed immediately.

Misfiring engine:

A misfiring engine occurs when it’s not firing on all cylinders. It can be a sign of multiple problems with your engine, but one of those problems could very well be your air filter being clogged up and preventing enough air from getting into the combustion chamber.

Also read: How Long Can I Drive With a Misfiring Cylinder

Strong smell of petrol or diesel when starting the car

A dirty car air filter may allow more fuel to get into the combustion chambers, thus causing a higher rate of fuel consumption. This is a result of less resistance against incoming airflow which means more fuel gets through and less exhaust out the tailpipe. The smell of petrol or diesel means the excess fuel isn’t being properly burned off in the combustion chambers. This too can cause damage to your catalytic converter and run up high and most certainly unwanted costs in repairs.

Related Codes:


So, if you’re noticing any or all of these signs, then it may be a good idea to check your air filter. If it looks like it needs cleaning or changing, then go ahead and do so.

Doing this simple task of cleaning your car’s air filter can save you money down the road by reducing emissions, increasing power without having to make engine modifications and keep the vehicle running smoothly for longer periods of time.

When checking or changing out your car’s air filter, it is also important to check for problems in other areas as well such as dirty spark plugs which could be attributed to lower gas mileage, starting issues and overall performance. You’ll just need some basic tools that are inexpensive enough that anyone can afford them at their local hardware store.

Other Recommendations:

Leave a Comment

Our Best Content In Your Inbox